At a recent rock awards ceremony Billy Joel reminded Eric Clapton about the old joke concerning the graffiti artist who coined the '60s catch phrase "Clapton is God." What he meant to scrawl was "Clapton is good." Last night at Capital Centre, Clapton was good, all right. Very good.
Supported by a six-piece band and two backup singers, he opened the 2 1/2-hour show with a couple of tunes off his current "Journeyman" album, and both performances were far more compelling than the recorded versions. Later Clapton had difficulty doing the same for "Running on Faith" and "Bad Love" -- they both came off sounding like pale imitations of his earlier work -- but there was little faulting the show once he began to look back on his remarkable career, evoking along the way vivid memories of Cream ("White Room"), Blind Faith ("Can't Find My Way Home," ably sung by bassist Nathan East) and Derek and the Dominos ("Layla").
The last was treated to a near-symphonic treatment, with percussionist Ray Cooper pounding away at the huge gong that served as the band's backdrop. But what really distinguished the show was the economy and elegance of Clapton's guitar work. No matter what the tune, whether it was a gorgeously tender version of "Wonderful Tonight," the simple 12-bar Bo Diddley shuffle "Before You Accuse Me" or a rousing encore of "Crossroads," not a note was wasted. For the most part, Clapton's singing was also nicely understated, and besides, there was always a capacity crowd on hand to join in when songs such as "Cocaine" begged for additional voices.
A repeat performance is set for tonight.